an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Faery Stories
Author: Charles L. Marson
eBook No.: 2100051h.html
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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Charles L. Marson
Story 1. - Goblin Glue
Story 2. - The Blinding Of Yewli
Story 3. - Wirra’s Scholar
Story 4. - The Mukka And Dwarf Treblekin
Story 5. - The Monks
Story 6. - Tutivaly, The Black Dwarf King
Story 7. - Through The Prickly Pear Hedge
Story 8. - The Land Of Cockain
Story 9. - Red-Brick Brownie
There was once on a time a wicked Sea Troll named Yewli, who was one of the rulers of the Great Bight. Ages ago, he was born in a little cave, no one knows quite where, and indeed no one cares; but he grew uglier and uglier every day, and shiftier and shiftier every week, and stronger and stronger every year, until he became chief of the wicked water things in this part of the sea. He hunted with a pack of sharks, who obeyed no one else; hunted the poor fat schnappers, and even the very whales themselves. He would send stinging things, like policemen, to order one off from his dominions; and when he could do nothing else, he told his wickeder brothers what time the ships were coming, and got them to untie the winds. He had a great palace under the sea—a hideous black palace, all slimy and hidden in masses of seaweed, and three parts buried in the sand. There were no windows there, for, as you well know, if the sun ever shines on a Troll he bursts in pieces. Yewli sat in his dark palace all day, eating sea-apples and sleeping, and at night he came out to hunt and kill things by starlight and moonlight.
But one night it was blowing great guns, and game was scarce, and the sky was as black as ink. Yewli had crawled half out of the sea, and was sitting on the sandhills, with the foam crusting his yellow skin. His great tawny feet, with their black nails, were still in the breakers, when he heard his two neighbours—the Hill Trolls—talking. Compared to Yewli they were quite little fellows, those Hill Trolls: reddish-brown hairy people, no taller than a good-sized gum, with long arms and hands that could tear down the largest branches from the trees, and teeth that could grind stones into mud. They were discussing how they might best do a mischief to the sons of men. Wirra, the elder one, was all for tearing up their houses and tossing the people into the sea; but Mukka, the younger, thought that plan too simple for the Hill Trolls; “and besides,” he added, “it does not much hurt folk to die. That is a small mischief to do them—only to kill them.” So the wind boomed, and the Trolls plotted, and the lights were few and faint in the town; and Yewli, seeing that it was not nearly morning, called to the Hill Trolls to come over and plot with him. And there they sat on the sand-hills near the creek, and talked until a grey streak in the sky frightened them back to their places before the sun rose on the world.
I do not know whether they invented it then, or fetched it from over the sea; but I am sure it was Yewli’s idea—the Goblin Glue—for that began it hereabouts. Night after night the neighbours met, and the sea smoked, and the hills smoked, and the children said one to another—”The Trolls must be brewing today,” as they watched the steam and smoke roll away in great, twisted, grey masses. The school teachers, when they heard this, used to get angry, and say— “There are no Trolls, no Trolls anywhere.” But we knew better.
At last the grey sky grew blue, and the soft sun shone out again as usual, and a young blue moon and a blaze of stars at night shone in a clear heaven, and nothing seemed wrong at all. But Yewli, Wirra, and Mukka had brewed a great cauldron full of Goblin Glue, and the grey dwarfs were spreading it about everywhere. You cannot see Goblin Glue, but it is terrible stuff for all that. It gets into your hair, and you cannot take your hat off, not even when you meet your own sister in the road. It gets into your ears, and then, when the sour-sorbs and the dandelions and the orchids all whisper to you, you never hear them. The grey dwarfs drop a handful into one man’s pocket, and when he puts his hand in, there it sticks; and they flip bits into people’s eyes, and then they can only see about a dozen things in the whole world. It gets into people’s heads, and they get stupider and stupider every day. The grey dwarfs smear it on fences in the paddocks, and on workmen’s tools, and on buggies and horses’ harness, and even on flowers; and O! the misery it brings! Still, I must say that it keeps the nap on hats and coats, and makes shirts white. They tell me also that it keeps houses and fences from going to decay, but I am not sure of this. In a few years every one in the colony got some of this horrid glue on him somewhere, and when the grey dwarfs reported to the Trolls, Wirra was forced to confess that Mukka’s plan was far better than his, and that Yewli was the best of the three.
But somewhere, probably up in the bush, some children will be born who will be able to see this dreadful glue, and to keep away from it, and then they will tell us how to escape from the curse of the Trolls; and that is what I am waiting for. I asked a white dwarf about the matter, but he only wrung his little hands and cried, and said the cauldron was not a quarter empty yet; and he did not know what we could do, for the remedies were terrible—made out of boiling blood mostly, and the juices of white men’s eyes.
Little Roland’s house was near the sea and was almost hidden in a nest of tall bamboos. The Bamboos were always looking over the wooden fence for the Wind, who was their great friend. When he came they whispered together, and told him messages and nodded to him, and he told them secrets, which no one else understood, not even Roland’s father and mother, for they were too busy to notice such friends. The Bamboos loved best to hear the Wind when he came from the sea, and as Roland lay in bed he could hear them talking together, and sometimes the Bamboos shuddered, even the tallest of them shuddered, until Roland wondered what things the Wind had seen out over the sea to make people shudder, because the sun, and the ships, and the white birds, and the sparkling salt water, and the beautiful colored evening sky all seemed pleasant enough to talk about. Yet every night he heard them talking and shuddering until he knew there must be something terrible out over the sea, which the Wind had seen and the Bamboos heard of.
Roland’s mother had often told him about his great namesake in olden times, rough Roland the Paladin, and how brave and pitiful he was, and how ready to listen to any poor thing who cried for help, and little Roland had made up his mind that he would be a soldier too, like old Roland the Peerless, and go and find out the truth of what the Wind told the Bamboos, and search out the unhappy ones and do them right. So he used, when he played on the shore and found poor things, fishes and such like, dying on the hot sands, to throw them back into the water and say, as the priest had taught him, “Pray God for me, brother, in my hour of need!” and they knew and understood, and swam away gratefully. But one day he found a large fish, a leathern jacket, golden and blue, and he lay groaning on the sands in the warm morning sun, and little Roland longed to keep him for the sake of his beautiful skin, but the poor fish sighed and sighed, until Roland pitied him, and dragged him to the waves and got him afloat, and when the fish got better he spoke and thanked little Roland in a queer humming voice, and they had a long talk together. The leathern jacket told him about the wonderful ways of the sea things, and all the strange life they lead, and how the sea caves are lighted with silver stars. At last he had to swim away to get some food, as he had not breakfasted that day, but he promised to come again for a chat, and so he did. Every day little Roland thought of nothing else than his strange friend, and he forgot to play and almost forgot to eat, thinking about the sea things. But one night the Bamboos and the Wind told stories louder than ever and shuddered worse than usual, and little Roland made up his mind to ask his friend the fish what it was all about, and so he did. Then the fish told him that it must be about Yewli, the King of the Sea Trolls, and about his palace of black rocks, and his pack of sharks, and about the evil he was ever planning, and the mischief he did to men and even to fishes. “Indeed, my dear, it was in alarm of him that I rushed into the foam and got left by the waves, and it was a false alarm too,” said the poor fish, a little ashamed of himself. “Do you know where his sea palace is?” asked Roland, “for some one ought to go and kill him.” “O, dear! do not talk to me about it,” said the fish testily; “I am the father of a family, but a flabby little thin-skinned thing like you would have no chance against any of them, besides I do not know how the grey dwarfs manage to get down to him from Air World; but Air World is a queer place, I do not understand it myself.” And with these words he whisked his tail and disappeared in the blue water, leaving a little ring of cream where he dived in.
“Some one ought to do it,” said little Roland, “and if I only knew how—”
So he went back home and talked to the family magpie about it. Magpies, as you perhaps know, have studied all such matters, and can tell a great deal if they only choose, and this magpie chose to help, being tired of studying wickedness and needing a little holiday from such studies. “Say nothing about it, but leave it to me,” she said, “and I will talk to the dwarfs.”
The very next morning it luckily came to pass that the magpie met one of the grey dwarfs in the mist. The grey dwarf was big with importance and pride, for was he not to go down to Yewli’s palace that very night with a message from the Hill Trolls? “Could men and women anyhow get in there alive?” asked the magpie carelessly, cracking an insect in her beak as she spoke. The grey dwarf laughed. “The charm is easy enough,” he said, kicking a white arum lily. “This miserable thing is so bad for all of us, that the fools could do anything they liked if they knew how to use it, but then they happily do not know that,” and, with a grin, he ran away in a wreath of curling mist. The magpie looked up at the white flower and gently pulled the tip of one of its wonderful leaves, and then ruffled up her feathers and stood on one leg, and thought and thought until the sun was well up and breakfast had begun.
Little Roland came into the garden after breakfast, and they sat on an old kerosene tin together, and he heard the grey dwarf’s story. It was a funny tale the magpie had to tell. “You must say nothing to anyone, but just go out in the little boat to-night,” she said, “and row towards the setting sun, and get the fish to guide you, and then lie down in the boat and wait, and you want nothing with you but the arum flower, and when the grey dwarf comes jump out after him, and you will find the way in to Yewli’s palace, and as for the rest I cannot tell you; but I think you had better stay at home and be quiet after all, for no good comes of such doings.”
But little Roland thought of old Roland, the bravest knight of Charlemagne’s court, and how he never cared what he endured so that he might slay the wicked, and set the people free from tyrants, and he resolved to try at any rate. So he went into the house and looked at it all over, and said good-bye to the tables and chairs, and the picture of “Evening Shadows,’’ and to the Iron Duke, and to the piano where his mother played every evening, and to the flowers in the verandah, and to the cat, and he looked at his stamp album and took his father’s revolver out, but put it back again because it could not be fired in the sea: and then he went to his mother and found she was going out shopping, so he walked with her and carried her parcels, and clung to her all day and helped her in the housework, and blacked his father’s boots until they sparkled with the polish. He thought of the boys he played with, and the cattle, and the old horse, and the peas in the garden, and everything seemed far nicer than he had ever known it to be before, as he saw it—for the last time perhaps. Then his father and sister came to tea, and Roland did not talk a word and looked troubled, so that they laughed at him, and after tea he slipped out, having kissed them all, and he picked the white arum and put it in his bosom, and then he ran over the sandhills.
The sun was setting, and the tide was high, and the whole air was full of quiet light, but he never stopped for a moment, but dragged the little boat into the water, and rowed out along the golden path as quickly as he could pull. The little waves against the keel sang as he rowed, and the world seemed glorious and as if there could be no Trolls; and Roland shook his shock of golden hair and seemed in a dream.
But the sun went down, and a little grey mist was rising, when a humming voice spoke to him out of the water—”So you have come out here to look for Yewli. Row quickly, or I shall be too late.” It was the leathern jacket, and Roland rowed and rowed, and the fish swam on before, until the sky grew so dark he could not see the fish’s track; and then he said his prayers in the boat. “Wait here,” said the fish, “and when the grey dwarf comes, follow him. And now, good-bye. Do not speak a word to any one, and they will never see you.”
Roland lay quite still, and waited in the bottom of the boat, and the mist grew thicker; but no one came. At last he heard some one step into the boat from the sea, but it was too dark to see; and the oars were seized and dipped in the water. And how the boat went along! It was the grey dwarf who was rowing, rowing until the waves against the keel yelled and sent up a tall spout of sea water into the air. He did not seem to see Roland, because, I suppose, of the magic lily; but, by-and-by, the boat stopped, and he made a cry like the curlew’s note, and then the boat swung round and round until she seemed to be standing half-upright, with her nose in the air. And then the grey dwarf leaped into the sea, and Roland after him. The water was whirling round and round, and they had leapt into a great round passage; and down they went —down to the bottom of the sea, and the little boat floated away in the mist. There was a faint blue light at the bottom of the sea, which came from little creatures on the weeds, and just showed the rush of dark waters and the black things moving in them. The dwarf ran quickly along a passage, and Roland after him, until they came to an enormous square black rock, and this was opened as if a huge trap-door spider had opened his house, and they passed in quickly, and the rock shut tight again, and they were in Yewli’s palace. The floor sloped down with firm sand, and the jagged walls were lit by little tongues of greenish pale flame; but the grey dwarf took no notice of anything. He hurried down the passage, and seemed uneasy, and looked round often; but Roland noticed that the dwarfs eyes never seemed to see him, and that was because of the magic lily. It was cold and silent there, as cold as ice, and so silent that they could hear the sharks if one swam against the rock outside to rub himself, and the crunch of the sand under the dwarf’s little feet seemed to make a crackle as he walked. Down went the path—down and down, until they came to a huge dim cavern, and there lay Yewli. His body was lost in the darkness, but Roland could see huge yellow arms and black hands, every nail of which was as broad as his own head. Yewli was lying on his belly on the sand, resting on his elbows, and his nails rested upon his coarse yellow cheeks. His hair was like seaweed, and his eyes were a glassy sea-green, shot with red gleams, and he had huge white tusks, each one as big as the grey dwarf. Roland seemed to be only in a dream, and he stood by, quite curious, but not in the least frightened. The dwarf gave his message to the monster, who smiled sleepily, and promised to meet the Hill Trolls, and then he sniffed and moved a little, and asked if all was right. “I feel a smarting in my eyes,” he said, “almost as though there were lily pollen in the air,” and with that he winked his great fishy eyes many times. Roland wondered how lily pollen could hurt either of them; but no one seemed to see him, and he took the flower out of his bosom. Its golden tongue was there, covered with yellow pollen; and a quick thought came to him to blow some into the Troll’s green eyes. No sooner had he done so than he heard a roar like the roar of a hundred cannon, and a shrill scream, and all the lights went out and the sea rushed in. Yewli had opened the door, and the cavern was filled with the plunge of the charging sea. Roland felt himself whirled along by the blinding water, he knew not whither, until at last he saw a star, and felt and heard that the waves were beating him against a rock; and he breathed the fresh salt wind again. Then he clung to the rock for dear life, and dragged himself out of the sea upon a far-off coast.
And Yewli was blinded—blinded for ever, and can never plot more. And some day he will crawl out of his cavern by accident when the sun is up, and then he will burst—as Trolls always do and must when the sun shines on them.
And it all seemed to be done in a few minutes by one child and a flower.
But there is a sad bit still to tell you, after all. Roland was found and saved, and he got home again; but he was not a child any more. He was an old, grey-haired, and wrinkled man, and lame, too; and he crawled and limped home one morning as the sun rose. The Bamboos were gone; his father and mother and sister were gone; and the cattle, and the horse, and the garden, and the lilies were gone; and the house was all altered, and on it a board—”To Let.” Thirty years had gone by in the world of men since they picked up the little boat, and thought the boy must have been drowned, and cried about him.
But the magpie was sitting on a sheaoak, and she knew the lame old man—knew him at once.
“I am glad you have got back,” she said. “I knew you would; but they are all gone away, and I am the oldest magpie about here.”
Roland found out his parents. They were not dead, nor his sister; but they refused to know him, and thought him an old mad tramp. So he went back to the magpie and told her. “Well,” she said, “what could you expect? You gave them all up, and yourself, too, to go after Sea Trolls. You must pay the fiddler, if you will dance. That is but fair.”
“But Yewli is blind, and they have made their last cauldron of Goblin Glue,” said old Roland.
“Yes,” said the magpie, “but you won’t see the end of it; and no one will believe your story except poor old me.”
Roland’s eyes shone, and he looked at the sea, and then at the beautiful hills, in silence, and at last said again—”But Yewli is blind; Yewli is blind.”
“O, yes!” said the magpie, angrily. Then she ate an earwig, and whistled. And so they parted.
But Yewli is blind now, and that is the great thing.
Tim Tomkins was a grubby and greedy school boy, who never played football, or cricket, or hockey, or any game but marbles, and he cheated at marbles. He never bathed, either under the shower or in the sea unless he was forced, and he never took off his hat, even when he met with a lady he knew. He lived chiefly to eat, and to hunt cats, and throw stones at weak and old people; and his parents were at their wits’ end to know what they could do with him when he should grow up. One day Tim’s father caught him pulling out the tail of a beautiful Port Lincoln parrot that belonged to his little sister Nell, and Tim caught it, that day, as he well deserved. He was thrashed with a malacca cane until his dirty body tingled, and, in his anger and tears, he resolved to run away. So he did, and that very day he ran towards the hills and got there about night-time, and hid himself in the scrub and ate sweets and cakes he had bought on the way with one and nine-pence, which he had stolen from off the kitchen dresser. The day had been hot, but the night was cold, and Tim began to wish he were safe back again, for his anger was cooled, and he felt tired and generally uneasy; but he noticed near him a hole in the hill side, such as folks make when they are “prospecting for minerals,” and, as it was growing dark, he crept in and huddled himself together to sleep.
The stones hurt him, although he had gathered some ferns and heath, and he was afraid of centipedes or scorpions, or lest a snake should find his way there, so he could not sleep.
At last he heard the sound of little feet, and he saw a small man looking into the hole. He was grey all over, face and clothes, and cap and hair, as grey as a piece of granite rock, and he had long eyes like a Chinaman and a large mouth, and in his hand he carried a candle shaped like a cricket ball. He looked in, and seeing Tim’s white face he went into peals and peals of laughter that sounded unearthly and mocking. Tim was frightened and vexed, but said nothing. At last the little man took off his grey cap and made a most low bow, and said, “I am delighted to see you, Sir! You have come just in the nick of time when we wanted one more boarder in our school.” Then Tim got up and bolted for the mouth of the cave, but the grey dwarf simply stretched out his arm, and Tim, after one attempt, felt he might as well have rushed against a feather-edged rail as against that little grey arm, so he kept quiet, and trembled from head to foot and began to blubber. But the dwarf took no notice. He gave a long whistle, and the back of the cave began to move, and a heavy door of stone opened and showed a large passage straight into the hill. The dwarf pushed Tim before him and shut the door and locked it, and grinned again. “Go on please, most distinguished Sir,” said the dwarf, and gave Tim a pinch and a twitch that made him jump and hurry on in front. The dwarf ran, and Tim ran down the long round passage, and at last they came to a hall, in the middle of which was a huge black table.
Round that table sat a queer company, grey dwarfs and men, and two black dwarfs more hideous than the grey ones, and towering above them was a huge red Troll, with white gleaming eyes, whose large arms lay along the table and clutched an immense wooden drinking cup cut out of a hollow tree trunk. The Troll looked as though he had been carved out of red cedar wood with all the knots and twists left in, and his coarse hanks of hair hung in a tangled mane down his back. An old worn fur robe covered his chest, and his bare arms and hands were mottled with brown stains.
When Tim and his companion entered, the company stopped talking and all looked at them. The dwarfs, whose faces could just look over the black table, grinned maliciously. The men looked sodden and like bewildered blinkards, and Wirra just moved one long knotted finger and pointed to a vacant place. In another minute the dwarf had pushed Tim thither, and the talking and laughing and drinking began again. Wirra’s school always begins like that.
All round the cavern upon jets of rocks stood round balls, which burnt fizzingly, like damp candles, and in a dark corner there was a something quivering like a rush of shadows. It was the fire, but the flames were black instead of yellow, so that they did not look like flames at all.
Everybody talked at once, and they all looked at Tim in turn, and called him a “distinguished visitor” and one of the “most remarkable men in the colony.” Then he was given a wooden pannikin, and it was filled with dirty-looking water and he was made to drink. It tasted like very coarse syrup at first, and then gave him a burning feeling in the stomach and made him swimmy about the head, and he felt as if his eyes were lumps of gum; but everybody was so agreeable that he began to be quite agreeable too (for him) and to scowl as freely as if he were at his father’s tea-table. He felt that his importance was recognised at last, and as he was praised more and more lustily, he grew less and less timid, until at last he got up from his chair and said he was glad to come to that school, and thought the master and other fellows were just his sort, and then he said “er-er-er” several times and sat down, wishing he had not drunk so much syrup.
Bursts of applause followed this speech and loud whispers of “able and eloquent,” “a Demosthenes,” “a Cicero,” “grand,” “an Australian Burke,” etc., &c., and though Tim did not know what they meant, he felt quite proud of himself.
He was astonished at the way in which Wirra moved about. Now he seemed as still as a statue, and now he would suddenly appear the other side of the table, or far away in the cavern; now he would be lying in front of the black fire, and now he would disappear altogether.
After a long time the company broke up, and Tim’s dwarf told him to follow into the second schoolroom. He did; and in a moment he heard a door open, and was in a stuffy, hot, little rock chamber. On every side were looking-glasses, which made it seem enormously big, for they reflected one another. Tim saw himself on every side, from every point of view. He turned round, and a hundred images turned, too; and he ceased to scowl, for he had only himself to scowl at; and he grinned at himself in the way the dwarfs grin. Such habits are easily learnt. He grinned for about an hour, when the door opened, and the dwarf told him that he had done well, that school was over, and that he should be given a new suit of clothes and be sent home for the holidays. It was a large check suit, and a large white band of linen which went round his throat, and all was smeared with goblin glue within and without. After he had put on these clothes the dwarf gave him a cup of stuff and told him to drink it. So he drank it, and it was like salt water and treacle, and in a moment he was back in the outer cave, and the morning was getting grey.
Tim rose and yawned, and slowly he began to forget all that he had seen in the mountain. It was the effect of the draught which made him forget nearly everything, except how important he was. Folk who have been to Wirra’s school remember nothing else about it but that.
He sauntered home in a leisurely way, and swaggered into his father’s house. Everyone looked at him in his new clothes with astonishment, but Tim could not remember where he got them, or anything except that he was the most remarkable man in the colony,
In vain his father laughed at him, his schoolmates kicked him, the masters snubbed him. He insisted on making his ugly voice heard on every possible occasion; and now at last he writes books and articles in newspapers to say how very very important he is, and that is, I believe, the way in which he earns his living. He washes now more often than he used to do, I am glad to say.
But every year, when the day comes round, he cannot help going up to the hills, and always by accident he rests in the little shaft, and the grey dwarf takes him into Wirra’s school, and they dose him again with their dreadful drinks, and call him Demosthenes and Cicero. Then they pinch him and kick him a little, and give him a horseshoe pin, or some bad cigars well smeared with goblin glue, and they give him another dose of forgetful medicine and send him back.
But one day, unless we can stop him, he will go there once too often, and Wirra will quietly seize on him at supper, and will wring his neck and roast him at the black fire, and they will then tear him and each will have one of his bones to suck; that is the usual fate of the scholars at this school.
No one may call him Tim now: even his mother has to call him Mr. Timothy; and he is uglier than ever. But all the same we ought to stop him from getting his neck wrung.
Mukka is the youngest of the Hill Trolls— he is only a few hundred years old. He never kept a school, and roves about a good deal. He likes to hear the chink chink of the miner’s pick near his cave, and then to flood him out with dirty water, or to bury him in loose earth. He always goes afoot, not like Wirra; Wirra rides a big black horse, at full gallop on the moonless nights, and the winds shriek when he rides over them and hits them with his stirrup; but Mukka has got an air raft and can sail on a black cloud if he gets one thick enough. He might sail on a thick white one, but then the sun would touch him and he would burst in pieces. He can drink up all the water in the creeks and waterholes and wells, and when the sheep come to water they find only grey mud, and then Mukka laughs. He likes to drink the tanks dry while the station hands are asleep on hot nights.
Once on a time there was a girl named Elsie, who lived on a station. Her father was a shepherd, and Elsie never went to school—partly because there was not a school there. She never wore shoes, or hardly ever, but she could ride the wildest horse through the scrub, and she could track like any blackfellow. Once when she was quite little she had seen a white dwarf; she found him asleep under a native cherry, and she thought he must be a small boy, who had got bushed. She got off her horse and woke him up, and when he uncurled his face from his arms she saw that he had a golden beard and quick blue eyes. She asked him if he were bushed: but he laughed, and said he lived there, and that his name was Treblekin. She gave him some bread and cheese which she had, and he ate it and thanked her, and then ran quickly over the next hillock and she thought he was gone; but he came back and called out that he would remember her and help her once, when she was in danger, and then he ran away. Elsie caught her horse and went after him, but she could not find him, or see any traces of him. A few weeks after that Elsie was thrown from her horse and broke her leg badly, and she was lame from thenceforth, but Treblekin never came to help her. Then she had another misfortune. Her horse broke his leg in a rabbit-hole, and she was miles away from home and her leg was too lame to walk back. They found her next day, half dead with thirst, but Treblekin never helped her then.
Elsie was very beautiful, though she was lame. She had a holy, kind face, and everybody liked her. When she was confirmed, and hopped up to the Bishop on her crutch, people said she looked like one of the saints, and they all said, “What a pity such a fine lass should be lame!”
One day her father told her that she was going to be sent to town: and so she had to say good-bye to the horses and dogs and all the old wild life without shoes, and to travel miles and miles, with not a soul to talk to, in coach and rail. At last she got to the town, and her aunt met her and took her to her own house. At first she liked it: the streets interested her and the shops, and the Italians playing at the edge of the pavement, and the music in church, and all the houses, and the gardens: and then she liked her little cousins, and could tell them all about the station, and the horses, and the wallaby hunts, and at last she told them about Treblekin. They did not believe about Treblekin, and only laughed at her and told their aunt, who told poor Elsie not to “fill the children’s heads with such nonsense.” She cried a good deal at that, and then her cousins laughed more. They went to a Model school, and learnt geography and geology and many other things, and how to be larrikins, but Elsie could hardly read and knew nothing by heart except the church Catechism and some of the old ballads her grandfather taught her. They told her that it was waste of time to go to church, and called her a saint in mockery. Every day she had to go to school—to a private school—and the mistress and girls laughed at her because she could never remember seven times, though she was so big, and strong too in spite of her lame leg, and so she longed to get home again.
At last it was summer and she went home: and there they all were, and the horses and dogs and grandfather and the cats, and she was glad to see them; but the place looked small and poor, and the tea tasted nasty, and she was tired, and it was fearfully hot, and the flies were awful.
Next day Elsie went for a ride with her brother Tom, and they rode to the salt lake and got there about sunset. They saw to their astonishment a huge black raft lying on the sand, and as they came over the hills to it, the brown sail moved in the wind and the cords creaked. The horses saw it too, and got mad with fright and bolted. Elsie was brushed off in the scrub and her horse ran away, and Tom’s horse carried him far away before he could stop it. Elsie got up and looked, and was curious and limped towards the raft, and thought she would look at it while Tom caught her horse.
So she found a stick and helped herself along, and came right up to the raft, and clambered right on to it. It was far too big to sail on the lake, and yet it seemed well used and very old, and the ropes were worn. There was nothing on it but a few large coils of thick rope and some extra planks, and all was as still as death, so Elsie sat quiet and simply waited. Now the darkness came on quickly, and as it grew dark she saw a black cloud, darker than the dark air, rising from the edge of the lake, and it moved and grew bigger, swelling like a bladder when one blows it. Then she heard a rustle in the sand and a tumbling of sand and stones, and at last she felt sure that something must be coming out of the ground, and she trembled very much. But the black cloud covered the raft, and she crouched behind a huge coil of rope and hid her face.
The raft shook with a heavy foot, and the ropes creaked, and the wind lifted the sail, and there was a rocking, and Elsie felt they were moving and she sprang up, and was going to scream, but she was too astonished. A tall giant sat in the raft and steered it. He had a thin face, with hollow cheeks and a sad look, and was looking up to the masthead. From the top of the mast floated a white flag, like a stream of white cloud touched by the moon, and it lit up the raft, and they were floating on what looked like black water and sailing swiftly along.
When Elsie moved the giant’s eyes fell sadly down and rested upon her. “Who are you?” he said at last in a noiseless sort of voice, “and why do you sail in Mukka’s ship and over the black air?” He did not seem angry, and Elsie rather liked him though he was a Troll, so she told him simply how it happened, and asked him to put her back at the lake, but he shook his head and said she must first come for a voyage with him. Then he tightened a rope and the boat heeled over a little, and without any noise or splash they seemed to be going at a frightful pace. “Hold tight,” said the Troll, and the boat swung round a hill top and they went faster than ever. Soon Elsie’s nose and one ear began to bleed, (they went so fast you know!), and the Troll handed her a shining hard sort of tiny pebble to put in her ear, and that stopped the bleeding. Then the boat stopped at a high mountain top, and the Troll went out and told Elsie to sit still and he would take her home then, and he soon came back.
He kissed Elsie on her cheek with his thin lips, and off went the boat, and the black cloud-water rolled behind them in silent waves, and soon the raft jolted on the land again and the jolt flung Elsie out. She hurt herself and lay insensible upon the ground.
When she came to, she seemed to hear a voice saying— “When all the rest fail you will meet Treblekin at the salt lake.” But she saw no one, and presently she heard a coo-ee, and a gun went off, and she knew her people had come to look for her, and it was daybreak. She coo-ee-ed back, and they soon found her and took her back. “That was a nasty fall she got,” her brother was saying. “The horses took fright at a huge shadow like a sail, and threw Elsie off. What a mark on her cheek! And how queer she looks!” “No wonder!” answered her father; “she has been lying insensible in the scrub all night.” Elsie said nothing, for it all seemed a kind of dream.
When she got home she looked in the glass, and saw a white face, with a long whiter scar on one cheek, just where Mukka had kissed her; and the rocking of the air-raft still made her eyes heavy-looking.
She came downstairs, and something got in her right eye, and she closed it—when, lo! she seemed to be in a room mostly of black charcoal, and as damp as a vault. She got the speck out of her eye, and opened that, and all looked as usual. Then she shut one eye again, and all was hideous. It was the side of her face, which she had touched with Mukka’s pebble, which saw so queerly. Then her grandfather came into the room, and she looked at him with her queer left eye. He first seemed to be a mass of raw, red flesh, smoking with white smoke; and as she looked at him steadily he seemed to flow away, until only a toothless skeleton stood there, and then even that became a heap of black smoking ash, with white and yellow powder sprinkled upon it. And then she opened her eye, and there was the old man in his chair, reading his large print prayer-book.
At first Elsie was horrified at herself, but after a little she rather liked looking out of the queer eye, and liked seeing the flowers curl up and turn black and become steam, and fall into charcoal and iron rust; and the books look black and drip with water, and everybody get raw and become barebones, and at last smoke. She used to describe these horrible things, and then she was praised by her parents for being clever; and at school she got put at the top of all the classes.
But sometimes grandfather shook his head over her, and the priest sighed, when he thought of her holy young face at the confirmation; and sometimes the scar on her face twitched, as lips do when they kiss, and that was uncomfortable. For all that, she got on splendidly at school.
But whenever she looked at babies with her queer eye, or at little children, they screamed; and the dogs would not follow her; and the magpie alone used to peer into her face with apparent pleasure. Then Elsie went to church, and shut her right eye, and the walls fell to mud, and the great stained window looked like a heap of sand, and the holy altar turned black, and the priest became a skeleton, and the chalice alone remained silver, but lost its shape; and there appeared to be nothing but sand and mud and water salt with people’s tears, a little silver and some bones, and the spinning of dead worms. And Elsie opened her eye again and shuddered.
Then she felt cold, and went home, and she longed to tell some one about it, but could not think whom to tell. She thought over all the folk she knew, but no one seemed near enough to tell. She thought one was an old frump, and another was an old fool, and one gossipped, and another had pimples, and they were all really skeletons and ashes; and she hated them all! Yes, all! Then the magpie peered at her and warbled, and he seemed to be laughing, and said something like “It’s all tit for tat,” with his beak in the air. What could he mean? Did they all hate her? Yes! they evidently did; Elsie could see it all now. And she remembered how the boys did not care to ride with her, and how the girls at school whispered about her, and how the babies screamed. So she hated them all the more, and felt cold and O! so miserable and lonely and clever!
About this time Elsie became a teacher, and she was called the best teacher in the colony, because she chiefly taught what she saw with her one eye. But that made her all the more miserable, and the scar in her face twitched more and more, and she hated everybody, even the horses; and no one liked her, for, as you may imagine, she was utterly disagreeable.
At last she went home again for a bit, and rode out to the salt lake, and remembered how she had sailed in the Troll’s raft, and she thought how stupid she used to be before then. The sky was just the old colour, and the lake was just the old size, and Elsie for once did not look at them with her left eye; so the sky did not become black and get emptied of its pink clouds and its sunset lights. Instead, Elsie sat on the ground, and she put her face on her knees and sobbed until her head ached. And then she cried out —”Treblekin! cannot you help me?” She was only half in earnest when she said that; but she heard a patter—a real patter—of feet, and there was a little white dwarf just up to her knees, and he had golden hair and a golden beard, and brave blue eyes. And he looked at her, and said— “Well! So you’ve come at last! I know what you want.” He laid his two little elbows on her knees, and took her blubbery, scarred face in his hands, and examined the scar where Mukka had kissed her; and then he quite slowly kissed the other cheek, and said—”That will grow right now.” Then he said to her—”Mukka’s pebble is still in your left ear, and no one can ever get it out. But I will tell you what to do. There is a little English weed called Fumitory. Do you know it? No? Well, ask the priest; it grows in his garden. You must distil that, and mix it with a little honey of roses, and drop that in the right ear.”
Elsie looked up to thank him; but he was gone, and her scar seemed to be all on fire, and it hurt. But next day it was smaller, and next day smaller, and at last it faded away, almost quite. The priest gave her some Fumitory and honey of roses, too, and she used them—and what do you think happened? When she opened her left eye by itself, her old grandfather looked still only a dreadful heap of ashes; but when she opened her right eye by itself, he was a tall, bold young man, with a beautiful brave face and bright golden hair. But when she opened both eyes, he was her dear old granddad, who so often told her tales. Then she went about and opened the right eye, and saw such glorious things, as even the priest had never before dreamt of, in all his life. When she opened both eyes she saw what ordinary folk saw; and that is what she does mostly. All the babies and cats and dogs and everybody like her now; and though she is still a little lame, and has a little scar on her face, she has almost forgotten Mukka and his bitter kiss, and the jewel to stop bleeding; but Treblekin sometimes talks to her still at the salt lake.
Once on a time there was a great town named Highlea, where the people were very wicked.
They only cared about quarrelling and fighting and hurting one another; but they were such cowards that they hardly ever fought face to face, but when a man had passed his enemy, the enemy would hit him with a club on the head, and then run away. “When they were not watching to hit their enemies, they used to have baths of warm mud, for there were hot mud-springs near there. They did not do much work, but other people fed them well, and gave them clothes for nothing. I do not know why these other people did so, but they did. The people of Highlea were, some of them, tired of living in that town, and of doing nothing but eat and hit other people’s heads, and take mud baths, and get their own heads hit. So, when a little old man talked to them, they were inclined to do what he told them. That was, to build a large house near Highlea and become monks. Lots of the people became monks, and the little old man was the Prior, or head man among them.
The Prior was a strict little old man, and the monks were not very accustomed to obey, or to pray.
They grumbled at all the things he made them do.
They all had to get up at midnight, and the youngest carried a lantern, and they went to church for a service called “matins” every night. Then, at six o’clock in the morning, another service called “prime” was said. Another called “terce” was said at nine o’clock; another called “sext” at noon; another called “nones” at three o’clock; and another called “compline” at six in the evening. Besides all these they had other services, masses, in the church, and lots of scrubbing, cooking, and washing to do, and gardening besides, for flowers grew everywhere, within and without. The little old Prior was a short man, with a long nose and a keen eye. He walked with his shoulders up to his ears, and he had rather long feet. He used to waddle somewhat, but whenever he came to look over the monks at work they trembled. If any one left any crumbs, or did not make clean the saucepans, or left any dust in the rooms called Dorter, Frater, and Farmery, the Prior would be sure to see it; and then he would say— “Dust is the serpent’s meat, and we want not the old serpent fed here.” After this he would punish them, and make them chop wood for a long time, or kneel on the cold stones. If any one slept too long, or talked too much, or said anything unseemly, or sang the Psalms carelessly, the Prior would be sure to know it and punish him.
One day the Prior had to leave the monastery and go on a long journey, and the Sub-Prior ruled in his place. He loved sleep and meat. So, little by little, the prayers grew fewer, and the dinners grew larger; the flowers and mint and fennel in the jars were not changed so often, and the scrubbing was not done so well. Then some of the monks sighed for the strict old Prior; but others made fun of him, and wanted him by no means to return.
Now, one day there came a lad to the monastery, and begged to be allowed to come in as a monk, and the Sub-Prior had him in on trial. He was a dark, lean lad, and clever. He could sing merry songs, and he always seemed to be awake and active, and he made jests for the brothers. They called him Brother Swart, and the monks used to love to hear his tales, even in the holy church itself, and, alas! even at mass time. Brother Swart made great fun of the little old Prior and his strict ways, and stirred up the monks against him.
Now, after a long time, the little Prior returned, and he said very little, but looked round and saw how things went; and he looked at Brother Swart, who hid behind a fat brother as best he could. But that same night, at matins, half the monks did not get up; and at the other services they slept or chatted, some in the church, and some anywhere else. The old Prior was sorely troubled, and he called them together and told them how grieved he was; and he very sternly rebuked them, and forbade them to talk at all for several days. All the monks grumbled, and Brother Swart made greater fun of the Prior than ever, and broke the silence at every hour of the day; and at the services he sang ribald lampoons upon the Prior instead of singing the holy words.
At last there came a great feast day, when all the monks were to go out of the monastery into the green fields, singing psalms and carrying the great cross and the banner of our Lord and of his saints. The Prior walked at the head, and was to preach to the people, and tell them how they might live better in this world and dress their souls for better company still. But on that very morning many of the monks had been sleepy, and did not come to the prime, and so he had bidden the drowsy ones to fast until the evensong. They were filled with angry thoughts against him, and Brother Swart had stirred them up all he could.
So, when the procession filed out of the great gate, and the holy psalm was raised, the Prior heard the people laughing, and he could not understand why. But all the way along the people laughed at the procession, until the Prior stood still and bade the cross-bearer stand also, and he looked behind him. The wicked monks had all got at the back, and they all had long feet and long noses, and all their shoulders were up to their ears, and they were waddling along in masquerade to make fun of the Prior. Now, when the old man saw this, he was not angry, but he was sorely afraid lest such foolish monks should be chastened of God, and he flung himself before the great cross and lay on the ground in tears, and, with deep prayers for them, he cried for mercy.
Now while he lay there, a bright-faced young man, clothed in scarlet, came from among the people and prepared to smite the wicked monks with a long, steel sword, and they all fled from him, but the Prior rose from the ground and ran quickly and beseeched him not to slay them. Then in an instant those wicked monks were changed into queer birds, which flew far away. As they flew, one of them bore in his beak a hissing, wriggling, black snake, and that was Brother Swart. Then the young man said to the Prior—“These wicked men are changed into birds, and they are banished to a far-off land to repent. When they can say the six services every day for a hundred years without missing one, they will become men again; but Brother Swart will be a black snake for all a thousand years.”
Then the Prior went home with the rest of the monks, and there was peace in the monastery from that time onwards.
But the people call those monk-birds the laughing-jackasses, and the black snake they still call Brother Swart.
There was once a boy named Mat, who invited his three friends to a birthday picnic.
Their names were Jock, Sim, and Gavin, and each one had a kangaroo-dog of his own. These all set out together, and Mat had a large wallet, to be carried in turns, well filled with provisions. It was a glorious September morning when they set out; the grass was long and green and the air was full of fresh scent from the wattles. They wandered away among the hills until they found a new hollow, which lay concealed by thick, scratchy, kangaroo-bush, and they got into it because they saw some bronze-winged pigeons flying there, and they hoped to find some nests. Everything was so still that you could not hear so much as an insect buzz, and the flies had not begun to bother.
Have you ever seen a hollow in the hills shaped like a giant’s flower-saucer? This one was such, but the rock walls were twenty feet high, and the floor was a mass of ferns, and rushes, and heath, and tea-tree.
Sim was the youngest of the boys, and they used to think very little of his advice, and even to pull his ears and hair and to hammer his arm if he displeased them, so he was the quietest; but this time he said —“I do not like the look of this place: I vote we go back.” “Why, little silly?” said black-haired Gavin, throwing a fir-cone at the speaker. “I don’t know,” said Sim; “but look at the dogs. I do not like the place.” The dogs certainly did not like it. They had come through the bush, but were shivering, with their tails curled hard between their legs, The elder boys looked at them and at Sim, and felt uneasy, but none of them dared show it. “Hi! Tyke! s-s-s-s-cats!” said Jock to his dog to make him run, but the poor animal only a little slackened his tail, as if he longed for a wag, and came closer. The boys ran, shouting, but the dogs only hopped gently by them, and refused even to chase a hare which appeared in the distance.
“Let’s have dinner,” said Mat at last; and they sat upon a great silver log, charred on one side by some bush fire.
The boys looked round, and everywhere they could see the grey line of level rock going round the place, just quivering in the warm air. “By Jove! this is a queer place!” they said one to another, “and it’s warm here.” And so it was, for there was not a breath of wind to stir the wild clematis. No one knew of the place, or had seen it before, and they lost their first uncomfortable sense in their curiosity. All except Sim, and he kept remembering the stories an old black woman had told him about the dwarfs, black and white, and how queer it was to meet them—especially to meet Tutivaly, the Black Dwarf King.
In the valley there was a watercourse, much overhung with bush and creepers, and half-choked with logs and old sticks, and nearly dry. While they were eating, the dogs looked up at this and pricked up their ears, and snuffed, and listened. Sim noticed them, but the others did not; and by-and-bye they were all startled by hearing a whistle—a pretty, clear, coaxing whistle—and the dogs ran towards the sound evidently pleased, and that was strange, because none of them liked strangers; but soon the boys saw, coming along the bank of the watercourse, a little fellow with a golden beard and a white face, who was whistling on a kind of flute. The dogs jumped about him as if he had been their own master, and he seemed quite at home with them. When he got to where the boys were he stopped, and said, “Do you boys like music?”
Now these boys generally would answer politely, but, as the dwarf was small and they were taken by surprise, they sniggered and whispered to one another, and no one spoke. At last the dwarf smiled rather sadly, and he took up his flute and began to blow. At first the notes came slow and clear, like a sorrowful hymn; and then they came quicklier and more cheerfully; and then the music broke into a dance; and then the very flute seemed changed, and the sound rolled out, and the ring of rocks echoed it as rocks echo the sea when the waves charge against them; and then the sad hymn came again, but sadlier this time; and then there came a soft cry and a soothing; and again the hymn came, and at last the dance, but softlier blown, and then the hymn, loud and clearly blown, ended the piping. The boys sat still and watched, but the dwarf said nothing. He sighed and walked on, after a little pause.
“I think we ought to have thanked him,” said Jock; “I wish I could play like that.” But the dwarf was gone, and they had not spoken to him.
But now they went on to explore the valley, or “circus,” as they called it, and they found a good many birds’ eggs and a Jew lizard, and tired themselves until the sun dipped behind the walls; but they saw no white dwarf again that day.
Then, in the twilight, they again felt uneasy. Sim especially urged them to go home, and they turned to do so—when a heavy rustle and a loud hiss seemed to show that a large snake was near them.
They ran away a few steps, and were getting over the ground pretty quickly, when they ran into a fine, silken net, which fell upon them and covered them, and held them struggling upon the ground. This was no accident, for they heard the sound of laughter and hurrying feet, and soon they could see a number of little black fellows about the height of the white dwarf they had met, and these quickly killed the poor dogs with long spears, and then seized the boys and bound a little cord round each one’s wrists, and then quietly rolled up the net.
“Surely you can break that thing,” said Gavin to Mat, and each tried, but it was quite useless, and when anyone tried to break it, the dwarf on either side twitched it maliciously, and it hurt and cut. Then everyone grew faint-hearted, and each boy in turn began to weep—first softly, and then with blubbering and loud sobs; but, before they had finished, the dwarfs dragged them along and led them to a deeper hollow, and there were some picks and shovels lying on the ground. The leader of the dwarfs came to Mat and told him, “You will have to dig all night for us, and we will sit round and watch you.” So saying, he slipped the cords off Mat’s wrists, and Master Mat, finding his fists free, immediately aimed a hard blow at the dwarf’s face, which the dwarf avoided, and Mat then bolted. Not a dwarf seemed to stir, but one of them, by a turn of the wrist, had thrown a noose over the boy, which caught him round the stomach and jerked him cruelly. Poor Mat, rather crestfallen, was again set free, and this time stood still for a minute and again tried to run. The same thing happened—a noose tightened round him and he fell heavily, and his nose bled; but the dwarfs only laughed. Then the boys were each given a pick or shovel, and Mat was beaten with a heavy bone rod, which he endured sullenly; and they all began to dig in terror.
The dwarfs sat round in a ring, resting their chins on their knees and grinning with white eyes and teeth as the boys tossed the sand up and tore at the rushes and heath. “When I say, ‘Now!’” muttered Mat, whose nose was still bleeding, “rush and hit them with the tools, and then follow me.”
But the king of the dwarfs seemed to know what he meant, and carelessly picked up an extra pick, and, with a great effort, drove its point against the head of one of the other dwarfs. The dwarf grinned, and took no harm, but the king showed Mat the pick. Its very point was turned!
Little by little the boys understood that they were helpless in the hands of these small and smiling slavemasters, and they ceased to whisper, and dug in silence, with blistered hands and aching backs. At last little Sim grew so tired he could not lift the shovel—not even when they flicked him with a whip, which was made of fine, dark hair. Then the dwarf king gave them leave to lie down for a moment. It was a clear, brilliant night, and they lay on their backs and looked up at the Southern Cross, but they ached all over and could not think; but, before they were rested, the dwarfs roused them up to work again. Now they had got to soft, white quartz, and the gold-dust could be seen, but the dwarfs never noticed that, and the boys had to dig on.
Little Sim, after a bit, fainted again, and a dwarf dragged him by the heels a little way out and let him lie. So the night passed on slowly in agony for the captives. Just when the morning was nearly coming, the dwarfs called the boys away and took them to a cave, where, in almost utter darkness, they were fed with dogs’ flesh, burnt a little in the fire, and a drink of brackish water in a bone cup was served to each one, after which, they slept on the ground, while the blessed sun was pouring his golden light on all the valley outside, and drying up the very tears they had shed.
Sim did not sleep much, but he found a bit of hollow bone on the floor, and he blew into it and made a faint note of music, and then, with his knife, he cleaned the bone and began to make a fife out of it, and the dwarfs came round and watched, much interested. So next night, when Mat, Jock, and Gavin were put to work, Sim was allowed to work away at his fife, and to make it fit to play upon, and whenever he blew the dwarfs laughed and stroked his hair heavily, and that usually pulled some out; but they meant it for kindness, and spared him the whip.
Every day the boy miners slept, and every night they dug with sore hands and were beaten, until they felt all stupid and careless about everything. They got to like the half-raw flesh and the brackish water and their sleep on the floor of the cave; and every day the hole they dug grew a little bigger.
Sim soon finished his fife, and on it he squeaked all the tunes he could remember— “Bonnie Dundee,” and “The Irish Washerwoman,” and “Polly Oliver,” and “Yankee Doodle,” and a lot more—and Mat, Jock, and Gavin would look up and nod and remember the old sun, and dream of getting free again, when they recognized a tune, but they were not musical, and, to tell the truth, Sim’s tunes were not exactly accurate. Then he played the hymns they sing in church, and the chants, but Jock had not been much to church and the other boys only knew a very few of these; and then one night he struck upon a queer, sad melody. It came to him by accident, and he did not know where he had heard it; but Jock nodded and nodded to him, and he tried it again, and got it nearer right. But the dwarfs did not notice the tune or come near, and one even flicked Sim with the hair-whip as he played it. At last it flashed across Sim that this was the tune the white dwarf had played to them on their last day in the sun, and he could not sleep when they got back to the cave for thinking of it.
So, while the others slept, he sat up and blew the notes on his scrannel rough fife, and this time he got them better—when, lo! far off there came an echo, yet not an echo, for it was far more beautiful even than the memory of the tune—the sound of the old music itself which came sweetly down through the cave roof from the bright air, and the coloured world, and the sunshine, and it answered Sim’s feeble notes. It was the white dwarf who played, and the black dwarfs tossed in their sleep and moaned, and one of them woke up and angrily snatched Sim’s pipe away and flung it against the wall, but Mat and Jock smiled in their sleep, and Gavin woke up and whispered—“I’ll get the fife, and then play again, dear Sim! Play one of the tunes the dwarfs like, and not that just yet.”
So Sim played very softly, “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and the dwarf king raised himself up and listened and nodded, and then lay down to sleep again. All the dwarfs lay quiet, and the last one just flicked all the boys with the whip and he then lay down and closed his eyes; but they sat up with little Sim. Then when Sim saw them asleep he breathed clearly the notes of the dwarf’s hymn, and again the echo that was more than an echo, came in a grander piping, and little Sim suddenly remembered how the piece went on, and he quickened his pace and played it on louder and faster, and the other piping swelled, too, until the cave was filled with the sound, and the black dwarfs all got up and shook themselves and seized their weapons, and the elder boys begged little Sim to stop because they had no hope that they could ever break their bonds, and they even laid their poor, dirty, blistered hands upon him to stop him; but he shook his head and went on.
Then the dwarfs put on their cords over the lads, but the beautiful, solemn melody seemed to get into the limbs of the boys, and they found the cords snap quite easily, and they pushed past the dwarfs and upset them. The dwarfs seemed weak —so stupid and weak!—and were easily pushed away, and that is because the blessed sun was shining above, and then the black dwarfs are always weak, if the boys could only have known it. Nothing stopped them now, and with their blistered and bleeding hands they flung down the brushwood and logs from the mouth of the cave, and once more they saw the old blue sky, and got into the warm air, and saw the old, green world of the day, and all the rocks rang with the echoes of the beautiful hymn—even when little Sim stopped his feeble music; and they heard the same melody even after they had escaped from the round valley and felt the breeze on the wild hill-side blow upon them as they hastened home.
The almond trees were just throwing down a soft snow of white flowers in the back yard, as the children came out from the house in the morning. They stood under the tree and tried to catch the falling, silky, white things in their red mouths before they could float on to the ground. The two elder ones caught a few, but the three little ones could not catch any. “I shall certainly ask father why almond trees have white flowers,” said Mary to brother Jack. Father came by on his horse pretty soon, and the children ran up to him and got close to the horse’s legs, and they put the question to him. Father sat still on his horse and looked at the almond trees for a bit, and then said— “I think it is to show the bees where they are wanted. The bees bring the pollen and the pollen makes almonds, and the tree pays the bees their wages in honey drops.”
“But why are not almond trees all pink?” Jack asked.
“Yes, father,” chimed in Mary; “and we want to ask you why the grass is green, and why yellow-bells are yellow?”
Father looked down at the children and said, smiling— “I don’t know, my dears. I am a busy and stupid old fellow! but some day you will read about such matters; but, even then, I fancy you won’t understand them—this side of the prickly pear hedge,” With that he shook his bridle-rein, and the horse went off at a canter.
“Why does he always tell us about the prickly pear hedge?” the children asked one another. “Why should we all be so ignorant on this side of it, and where is the prickly pear hedge?” The children had to ask for stories about all the things, and father told them when he had time. When the almond trees blossomed, father told them that the little fairies were doing their washing and bleaching before the dancing season began, but when they hung their clothes out to dry the brown fairies mischievously stole the pegs, and so the clothes got blown away. The brown fairies rode on bees, but the “good people” flew on their own wings. Then he told them how the purple ants were the ground-dogs of the brown fairies, but mosquitos were their air-dogs; but he always ended his stories by saying, “You can learn all you want to know the other side of the prickly pear hedge.”
One day Mary and Jack went to stay with old Aunt Patience, an old, old lady who had come out from England (I should think in the ship Buffalo), and who had also done and learnt a great deal more both before that happy event and since. Aunt Patience was a white witch, and when her old hands bewitched people she cured them of the toothache and other aches besides; but when folk cried for the moon even Aunt Patience could never get more than a little bit of the moon for them, but that little bit was often enough to show them that it looked and tasted quite different from what they thought.
“Well, dears!” said Aunt Patience, “you shall go through the prickly pear hedge if you want to go, and then you can see for yourselves; but I think you will be glad we live on this side of it, after all.”
Then Aunt Patience called her wild turkeys, six of them; and they came at once, and she harnessed the huge birds to a little moon chaise without wheels, and they all set off together. Whir-r-r! how the great wings flapped, until one could hardly see or breathe! Jack felt giddy, but he dared not scream, and poor Mary was very sick before they had gone a mile; but at last Aunt Patience pulled the birds up, and the chaise-and-six floated quietly to the ground.
It was the end of the world, some say, but Aunt Patience never told them that. She simply pointed to a great, tall hedge of prickly pears which stretched from sky to sky. It was covered with green and yellow pears, and yellow flowers and red buds, and it threw up its great, fleshy leaves high into the air, and its little sprouts studded the ground with spiny shoots. “There you are!” said Aunt Patience, “walk along until you see a peg is in the ground with your name on it—then push through, if you like.”
They had walked on a few steps when Mary cried “There’s my peg!” and, sure enough, there it was, and the hedge looked thin there. Jack wanted to go through the same hole, but Aunt Patience said— “My dear, everyone has a hole marked out for him in this hedge, and no one can get through except at his own place.” So Jack had to walk nearly a mile further, which he did without grumbling.
Mary made a bold push, but the thorns ran into her a good bit and she could not help crying out loud, and her dress was torn, and her hair caught in the fleshy leaves on the thorns and came out— lots of it—and she got one foot at last through the hedge, and then her head, and she could see her brother almost a mile away. He had wrinkled up his face into puckers and was trying not to cry, but the fine needles were in his eye-lids, and his lips, and his nostrils, and in his boots and his finger-tips and his ears were furred with them. But they both got through at last.
Now, just through the prickly pear hedge was a piece of ordinary country, as it looked at first, but on every leaf of every tree and bush you could see, when you looked close, an immense lot of hand-writing. Not only the Latin name was there—as clearly as it is written in the labels of the Botanical Gardens— but also a long description of why it was blue-green, scythe-shaped, sticky, flat, or whatever else it was; and when you looked more and more at it you would see, between the lines, still smaller print, and that told you what medicine could be made of it, and what insects lived on it, and why it smelt as it did. When the wind stirred the leaves they all lectured at once, like very learned professors, and every grass-blade which the children came near cleared its throat and began in a little, squeaky voice, and the rushes quickly drowned them. “My name is Juncus Squarrosus, and my panicle is terminal,” began one rush, but, before he could out with his speech, the words “foeniculum”— “like many others, a Mediterranean Inula”—“Cape of Good Hope”—”now a cosmopolitan Sonchus”—“called by Shakespeare ‘The Shepherd’s Purse’”—“you will observe the stripes which lead to the nectaries”—all these and a thousand more voices joined in the tangled and interminable chorus. You could not shut your ears to it, for it grew louder and louder, and birds came flying, and beasts, and insects, and chirped, buzzed, hummed, grunted, squeaked all their history, and structure, and evolution, and native names—until the children's heads swam; and when at last the thunder began roaring out a terrific lecture on electricity, they turned back to the prickly pear hedge and dashed at it more eagerly than ever.
If to get through was pain and grief, to return was torture, and they left red stains on the great thorns as they pressed back, and, blinded and smarting, they got back at last and felt Aunt Patience’s fingers nimbly picking the thorns out of their hands, and feet, and faces, and she took them home again safely. But for all that, they were not quite free from the needles for almost a year. Then they stood again, one August day, under the almond blossoms and watched the white petals fall, and tried to snap them as before; but they are not quite so anxious for another dive through the prickly pear hedge. “I think I like best these quiet plants and things,” says Jack; “one can think about them in peace, but when they all lectured like professors I could not learn a single thing.”
But old Aunt Patience is still willing to take any of the children in her turkey-chaise up to the hedge. “If you go through, my dears, you will pass all your standards, and all be top of the school, but it hurts a good lot, and, as far as I am concerned, I like best the quiet, beautiful things on this side of the Prickly Pear Hedge.”
George was a handy fellow who could do the house-work, or the garden-work, or the milking, as well as anyone, and his mother even allowed him to cook the dinner when she went up to Adelaide to buy a new gown for herself. It was a hot day, and a North wind was blowing the dust into clouds a hundred feet high, and George felt warm over the saucepans. He had put the lamb into the oven and was just peeling the last potato when he felt a rush of heat come over him that made the kitchen intolerable. The very blowflies were too sickly to do more than crawl along the dresser. George rushed out into the garden and sat near a big orange-tree, and flapped the flies with his potato-knife. “How I wish dinners would get themselves ready!” he sighed, half aloud. “So they do in some countries!” said a voice from the orange-tree, and when George looked round he saw a little brown-legged fellow sitting upon the orange branches. He was black-eyed, and bare-armed, and bare-legged, with a dark-green cap and a dark-green blouse, and he had a sprig of orange-blossom in his cap. “So they do in some countries, I assure you,” he said again. “Who can he be?” thought George to himself—“in our orange tree, too! It makes one cool to look at him, though.” The fairy—for he was a fairy—swung his brown legs in time and sang a song to himself in a clear treble voice, with no effort at all—
Heigh-ho! when the North winds blow
All we wish is the Land o’ Cockain,
Where they whistle the wind from the Southern Sea,
And the cool just fans us to life again.
Heigh-ho! when the East winds blow
My heart goes out to the Land o’ Cockain,
Where they whistle the wind from the balmy West,
And the nipt blood tingles with life again.
Heigh-ho! when the sky’s of steel
And the cattle are dying for want of rain;
When the sun licks everything dry as dust—
Then I sigh deep for my sweet Cockain.
Heigh-ho! when the flood comes down,
And to save the houses they struggle in vain
In the mud, and the damp, and the ugly rush—
I pant and sigh for my own Cockain.
Heigh-ho! when the scrub’s ablaze,
And we beat—
“But you won’t get the dinner done, George, my lad,” he said, looking sharply at George, with his black eyes.
“No more I shall, sir!” said George, respectfully, for he liked singers; “but I’ll be out again as soon as I’ve put on the potatoes.” In he rushed into the sweltering kitchen and bent over the tin and finished the last potato, and washed them, and set the saucepan on the fire, with “cold” water and a pinch of salt in it, and popped out again into the garden, with a glance, as he passed, at the American clock on the mantel-shelf. The fairy was still there, and was still swinging his legs to the same time, and apparently musing upon Cockain.
“Do the winds really come when you whistle for them?” said the perspiring cook.
“Undoubtedly—in Cockain,” said the fairy.
“O how I wish I was there for half-an-hour!” said George.
The fairy broke two twigs off the tree and held out one to the boy.
“Catch hold of this,” said he, and while George held it he waved the other twig in the air and sang —something like this he sang—
Poor little soul in the tortured skin,
One step up—let the old world spin!
Lift your legs and just let it roll,
And you’re far away, you poor little soul!
He seemed to lift up George as he sang, and the ground spun and slipped away, and then he let him down—and there was no orange-tree, no house, and no garden visible!
They were standing in a queer brown-and-yellow country all in stripes, like ploughed land; but, oh, what queer things they saw! The trees sparkled with pink branches. They were made of sweetmeat, and the flowers on them were creams and caramels, and the leaves were biscuits, and they bore all kinds of fruits—all quite ripe, and some of them candied.
What looked like sunflowers were really tarts; and the very pebbles were bulls’-eyes and dough-nuts. A fallen log lay near them—it was fresh jam roll. As for buns, they grew in bushes—the little ones at the top and the big ones near the ground. Cheese straws sprouted under the hedges of cake-tree, and when you saw a bare patch on the ground it was where some delicious bird, or joint, or pie lay, smoking hot, ready to be eaten. George stared, and felt cooler, for the air was delicious, and he hardly believed his eyes.
Could he eat something? he asked the fairy.
“Anything you like,” said the King of Cockain —for that was the fairy’s title—and George picked up a large apple dumpling from the ground and began to eat it as he stood. The King watched him and, while he ate, chatted on pleasantly.
“Everything in this country is delicious,” he said; “the streams are of milk, and ginger-beer, and wine. What looks like soil is chocolate and brown bread; and every flower, and leaf, and pebble, and blade, and every bit of bark is good for food. There are no snakes, or mosquitos, or North winds; there is nothing poisonous, and no darkness, and, indeed, nothing to annoy you.”
“Surely this must be heaven,” said George; but he secretly thought that it did not look quite so nice as the green world, with its orange-trees, its moon, and its winds.
“Well,” said the little King of Cockain, “I do not know what you people mean by heaven; but when I have listened to preachers in your world they seemed to me to be meaning to describe Cockain.”
“Can one sit down?” said George.
“Certainly; but as you have to sit on pastry, or chocolate, or something, I advise you to take off your clothes—everyone does here.” That seemed sensible, and George was soon out of his few garments, which he hung over a dry shrub of black liquorice-sticks. He sat on the ground and ate, and ate, and ate, and the little King walked about and watched him.
“I wonder I do not get a stomach-ache,” said George.
“Impossible, my dear!” replied His Majesty; “no one does here.” So George ate till his jaws were stiff, and then dozed on the ground.
He woke up feeling rather sticky, and the King said, “If you want a bath, whistle; and if you want it warmer, whistle a higher note.” So said, so done. The boy whistled, and a little breeze brought him a little cloud, which hung over him for a minute and sent a shower of tepid water all over him.
“Well! this is a nice country,” said George; and he began on a new flower again, which proved to be a strawberry-ice.
“Are there any other people here?” he asked.
The King took him by the hand and they moved lazily over the banquet-ground, smelling fresh dainties at every step, and they came to a thicket of jelly-leaves, where a thin stream of soup flowed along the ground, and the King looked in and said, “There’s one!” A whistle sounded from the thicket, and they stood aside while the little cloud washed the thicket, and then they looked in together. A huge, fat, white, smooth maggot lay half-buried in the ground. It looked like a very enormous cheese-mite, and George loathed the sight of it. They looked at the maggot as it slowly moved and began to gnaw the ground, and the King watched George but said nothing. Presently the King kicked the maggot with one of his brown toes, and, with an uneasy wallow, the thing wriggled one end out of the ground.
“Good heavens! it looks a little like a man,” said George.
The face was like that of a repulsive idiot, but very white. The eyes were tiny, and almost closed; the flat nose and mouth nearly joined; and four white teeth showed, like fishes’ teeth, between the flexible lips.
“He’s been here a hundred years and more,” said the King. “I brought him because he was a fine young fellow, and wanted to come here very badly; but they all get like this in time.”
George saw with horror that two sets of little withered strings at the maggot’s sides and end were shrivelled arms and legs.
“However did he get like this?” he asked the King of Cockain.
“They begin just as you did, you know. They eat and eat a lot, and then they take off their clothes for a bath. Then they eat, and sleep, and eat, and have showers all day long, and they get drowsier and lazier every day. At last they lie down to eat —it is too much trouble to pick things up. Then they get half-blind, and then their arms and legs shrivel, and they get so stupid they never talk. But they can whistle—that is the curious thing—though they are nearly deaf.” So saying he stooped down to the uneasy maggot and whistled very loudly a few notes at his bald head, where the shrivelled ear was just visible. A gleam of light seemed to pass over the dull face and the lips went together, and a shrill-toned whistle followed. It was an air out of the old “Beggars’ Opera,” but George did not know that, and, after a few bars, it ended in a grunt, and the maggot wriggled into its hole again and set to eating.
George began to cry. “Please, King, I want to go home,” he said, and the black-eyed fairy laughed and held out the same bit of orange twig to him, and, waving the other arm, sang a little charm—like this—
Out of Cockain, to the land of buffets,
Back to the scorching heat and pain,
To the land of frost, of toil, of poison—
Anywhere, only—out of Cockain.
In a minute they were back under the old orange-trees, and the brown legs were swinging in time to the last notes.
“The potatoes are just done, George, and your mother is puffing and blowing along the road with her new gown. Good morning!”
“Good morning, sir!” and George ran to the gate to help his mother carry the parcel.
And O! what a dreadfully hot day it was!
Red-brick Brownie is the kindest of all the Brownies. He got his name from his brick-red mantle, which he always wore, and a little cap of the same colour with it. The other Brownies are, some of them, mischievous enough; but Red-brick Brownie never mislays things nor charms the cream, so that he may laugh at the woman, who churns what will never become butter. Neither does he throw the soot into the saucepan, nor lame the horses, nor tell the hawks and native cats where the chickens are to be easiest found. All these things, and a hundred more, the other Brownies do; but Red-brick Brownie has never done anything very bad. His worst doings have been that he has sometimes shewn the white ants a few posts or rafters, which served them very well; but it did not please the builders to find them there. Red-brick Brownie, too, warns the mice against traps and the sparrows against poisoned wheat. He is a lazy little fellow, the other Brownies think; but do not you believe it, my dears! Over-busy is under-good, and a long way under, too; and thinking time is not time lost.
Red-brick Brownie is about as tall as a good-sized baby. He has soft brown arms and legs, and a round face, with dark brown eyes and long black lashes. His toes are very small and round. Of course he can make himself invisible when he likes, and can curl away into the tiniest little hole; but when he stretches himself out he is as big as a good-sized baby.
One lovely warm evening Red-brick Brownie was playing bo-peep with a willy-wagtail near a grove of loquat trees. He was twisting cobwebs while he played, and the bird tried to snatch them from his hands, to line her nest with them. Red-brick Brownie lost the game, for he played carelessly and for fun, while the bird was very much in earnest. The sun began to go down, the western sky became green-yellow, and the air turned suddenly cool. It was just that time of day when the gum trees lose all their colour, and you can see their shapes most clearly—their infinitely varied and beautiful shapes. Red-brick Brownie said good-night to the bird, and was walking softly towards a large hollow tree, meaning to romp with the opossums till moon-set, just to keep himself warm. Suddenly he heard sounds of distress from the vineyard—voices he did not recognise; and he ran, as only Brownies can run, to find out what was the matter.
He peeped through the black vine wood, and under a thick bough he saw a sight, which astonished him indeed. Five little faeries, not so large as himself, sat shivering on the ground. They had the loveliest clear white faces, just touched with pink. The chief one wore a soft, blue robe, like a clear Morning sky in hue, and she had great gnat-like wings, which matched her robe. The others wore Musk-green, Opal, Pea-red, and Pomegranate. Brownie saw all that, and named them in his own mind at the first glance, for Opal carried a glow-worm torch, which she had filched from her cousin, a Will o’ the Wisp, and that lit up the bower, where they sat, weeping and dismayed. The fact was that these five had stolen away from the faery court for a frolic without telling Queen Mab and the Faery King. They had floated away in nautilus boats and on the backs of swallows until they had lost their way. The sun had set, and the blue wings of Morning-sky had been frayed, and now they were shivering with cold and despair, for the cold dew would drench them if it fell upon them.
Red-brick Brownie was rather shy at first, but he soon plucked up heart, and, holding his little red hat in his hand, he showed himself, bowing politely. The five faeries looked at him, and then all together rushed up to him and took hold of his brown arms, and danced around him with joy. “You are one of the country faeries, I suppose,” said Morning-sky to him; “were you sent by Queen Mab to tell us the way home, or did you find us out by accident?” Poor Red-brick Brownie was not a faery properly speaking, as he had no wings, and he had only heard of Queen Mab from the wind elves, and he felt particularly shy at being danced round by five strange faeries. He felt particularly wingless and brown and dusky in their company, and half sorry he ever introduced himself into their society. “No! if you please,” he said simply, “I do not know Queen Mab, and I am only a Brownie.” Then the faeries laughed at him and made game of him in the most heartless manner, because he did not know Queen Mab, who was, according to them, the one and only person worth knowing of all the living sprites in faery land. Then they told him the wonders of her court, and of the moonlight dances which left rings on the grass, and of the magic rings they threw on tables and on white table-cloths, which brought “good luck,” and of the feasts and junkets they have at Queen Mab’s court, and how they pinch the maids who are lazy, and how they ride on sea-mews and swallows, and a thousand other things. Red-brick Brownie, however, had much to tell on his side. He told them of the enchanted island which no boat can reach, for the bitter lake boils, and the boat is upset, and the rowers scalded to death. “On this island is a huge gum tree, the largest in the world, and wrapped round and round this is the King Serpent himself. His huge coils have worn the tree until it is like polished glass, and it groans with his weight. He has a large cavern, which leads to the bottom of the sea, and goes far beneath the bitter lake and beneath the earth itself. When the King Serpent goes to the sea he makes the earth shake. Once a ship fired its guns at him and he was stung by the iron balls as they bounded from his iron scales. Then he rose from the whirling water far above the mast, and dashing down again caught the great ship by the keel, and shook it as a dog shakes a rat, and it sank, crushed into a shapeless mass.” The faeries listened, but they hinted that stories which were told by folk who never saw Queen Mab could not interest them very much. “Queen Mab! Queen Mab!” said Red-brick Brownie at last. “If her court is the only enchanting spot, why are you here under a southern vine with the Southern Cross peeping through the tendrils at you?”
Red-brick Brownie, however, was too kind-hearted to be angry. He saw that the poor faeries would not fare well when the night dews began to fall, and he began to think of where he could put them until the sun and the swallows woke up, and they could get back to their Queen Mab again.
The only place of shelter he could suggest was a rather undignified one. You know those kakas, as the children call them, which learned men call cicadas? You know how, when they are getting to the winged stage, the great insect climbs up a post or a tree and cracks open. Out flies the winged thing, and leaves its old brown skin, with staring sightless eyes and cleft head looking upwards.
“Now,” said Red-brick Brownie, “if you do not mind curling yourselves up and getting into these, you will find them comfortable enough, I can assure you; and I will carry the torch and guard you until the sun gets up.”
Musk-green, Opal, Pea-red, and Pomegranate were indignant. They fluttered their wings and sailed up in the air to let off their bad tempers. But poor Morning-sky had frayed wings, and when one’s wings get frayed one’s pride cools. She asked Red-brick Brownie to excuse the others for their rudeness. Indeed, the cool air soon brought them to reason, and they were only too glad to hear that Morning-sky had resolved to accept the lodgings.
The four were soon disposed of, and Red-brick Brownie saw them sink into tiny little things and drop snugly into the kakas’ jackets. But poor Morning-sky, she could not fly until her blue wings grew again, and that would not be for a day at least. So Red-brick Brownie had to take her tenderly in his brown arms and climb up a tree with her to put her to sleep.
She rested her pretty cheek against his shoulder, and her golden hair wove a soft silk mesh over his arm. He swung himself up the tree with the other arm, and before he dropped her into the kaka’s skin he kissed her dainty lips.
“I do not know anything about Queen Mab,” he said, “but I wish you would stay here with me and make me glad.”
He was such a handsome Brownie, and so tender in his ways, that the poor sick little faery quite longed to stay with him, and half-promised that she would.
Good Brownies are such an immense comfort when one is sick, that even faeries fall in love with them a little.
Red-brick Brownie ran for his spear, and he was on guard all night, and walked the rounds from sleeping faery to sleeping faery; and he visited Morning-sky’s sleeping-place twice for every visit to the others. The excuse he gave to himself was that she could not fly if anything disturbed her, but the others could. He had slung his spear on his back, and he carried the torch all night long. He sang to himself as he watched, not that the faeries should hear, but because he felt proud, and wanted to keep awake.
Stand off, scorpions!
Venom, keep away!
Here sleeps the daintiest of faery dears,
Clad with the colour of the morning sky;
Stand off, black bad things, till the day appears
And bright blue wings unfurl again to fly.
Stand off, scorpions!
Venom, keep away!
Lazy stars, run round!
Run! run! until your faces all look white
For with the sun she’ll rouse herself anew,
Fairer than all you faeries of the night.
Run faster, stars! we’ve watched enough with you.
Lazy stars, run round!
At last it was morning, and the Sun called the faeries up. If they looked exquisite by torch-light, words could not picture them by day. Poor little Brownie lowered his spear and knelt on one little brown knee to kiss their hands in turn, but when he got to Morning-sky he kissed her hand and then her pink foot in devoutest homage. “You stupid fellow!” she said, drawing it back, “you tickle my foot.” But whatever she said he fancied it was altogether perfect and generous, even when she laughed at him for his sentinel song, and never said a word of thanks for all the hours he had watched for them. Perhaps Queen Mab had not taught her faeries how to behave to Brownies.
With the sunlight came the swallows, and with the swallows each faery had a horse, and—then— away they went, waving their hands to Red-brick Brownie, and laughing at his mouth, which quivered as the swallows sailed at full speed out of sight. If ever a Brownie could have wept real tears he would have done so then, but they cannot you know.
So he washed his little brown legs in the creek and let the crayfish walk over his toes, and then he went back to the old life, just as if nothing had happened. The only change in him is that he sometimes cries strange cries, in the vineyard at night, and he keeps the kaka skin in his hole, and is always asking about Queen Mab and her court, but, unfortunately, no one can tell him about her.
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